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BASIC NEWS LEADS. CHAPTER 7 “He was the quiet Beatle who left the loud legacy.” (CNN lead on death of Beatle George Harrison). The Lead’s Needs…. The first sentence or two, or the first paragraph or two, in a newspaper, magazine, or online news story is called the “lead” or “lede.”

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basic news leads



“He was the quiet Beatle who left

the loud legacy.”

(CNN lead on death of Beatle George Harrison)

the lead s needs
The Lead’s Needs…
  • The first sentence or two, or the first paragraph or two, in a newspaper, magazine, or online news story is called the “lead” or “lede.”
  • It is considered the most important part of a story—and can be the most difficult to write.
  • The lead should arouse a reader’s interest.
  • Leads often will cover the central point of the story, not hide it with unnecessary or misleading words and phrases.
summary or central point leads
“Summary” or “central point” leads
  • The most common type of lead. It gives the main or central point of the story.
  • While every news story should answer six questions: Who? What? Where? When? —Why? How?-- the lead is not the place to answer or address all of them.
  • The lead should answer only the one or two questions that are most interesting, newsworthy and/or unusual.
to determine the lead ask yourself
What is the most important information? What is the story’s central point?

What was said or done about the topic? What happened or what action was taken?

What are the most recent developments? What happened today or yesterday?

Which facts are most likely to affect or interest readers?

Which facts are most unusual or out of the ordinary?

To determine the lead, ask yourself:
people s names don t have to be in leads
People’s Names– don’t have to be in leads
  • Delayed-Identification Leads: In many stories, the names of the main subjects are not as important as what those people did or what happened to them.
  • For these stories, reporters use leads that withhold complete identification of the people involved until the second or third paragraph. (See examples top of page 150)
leads avoid headline writing
Leads: Avoid “headline” writing
  • Leads must be complete sentences: They are not headlines, so they must include all the necessary little words, often articles, such as the words “a,” “an,” and “the.”
  • Bad lead: Six College of Charleston students arrested last night when police break up downtown party. (too “headline”—not a complete, grammatically correct sentence)
  • Better lead: Six College of Charleston students were arrested last night when policebroke up adowntown party.
count your words
Count your words!
  • Lead Length: Many readers find a 25-word lead “difficult” to read and a 29-word lead “very difficult.” A better average would be 18 to 20 words. (see p.152 chart of newspaper lead lengths)
  • Reporters should examine their leads critically to determine whether they are wordy or repetitious, or contain facts that could be shifted to later paragraphs.
  • Broadcast leads are even shorter—12 words
elements of good leads
Are specific—good leads contain interesting details and can help readers or viewers/listeners visualize the events they describe

Use strong, active verbs—a strong word or descriptive verb can transform a routine lead into a dramatic one.

Emphasize the magnitude of the story—stress the impact stories have on people

Stress the unusual—by definition, news involves deviations from the norm

Strive for simplicity—every lead should be clear, simple and to the point

Localize and update—leads should emphasize your communities’ involvement in stories (local angles and reactions to national, international stories)

Elements of Good Leads
good leads more
Good Leads (more)
  • Are objective and attribute opinions—reporters are expected to gather and convey facts to their readers, not to comment, interpret or advocate.
  • Reporters may anger or offend readers when they insert their own opinions.
  • A lead containing someone else’s opinion or statement must be attributed so readers clearly understand the opinion is not the reporter’s.
common errors with leads
Not beginning with the news—you should stress the news of the story, not the attribution (example, p.156)

Don’t “bury” the lead—chronological order rarely works in a news story—the lead should stress the central point, what’s most newsworthy, noteworthy or unique

Avoid “agenda” leads—an opening paragraph that places too much emphasis on the time and place at which a story occurred is called an “agenda” lead.

Example: Yesterday the Cougar baseball team played a double-header against Clemson at Patriots Point.

Better: At Patriots Point yesterday the Cougar baseball team swept a double-header from Clemson.

Common Errors with Leads
more common errors with leads
More Common Errors with Leads
  • Avoid “label” leads--“Label” leads mention a topic but fail to reveal what was said or done about the topic. Leads must report the substance of a story, not just its topic.
    • Example: The City Council Tuesday night discussed ways of regulating underage drinking downtown.
    • Better: The City Council Tuesday night examined several fake ID cards and approved new guidelines to help bar owners crack down on underage drinking downtown.
also avoid
Lists- can be dull

Platitudes-- avoid stating the obvious or stressing the routine in leads (p.158)

The negative- report what happened, not what failed to happen or what does not exist (p.158)

Exaggeration—if a story is weak, exaggeration is likely to make it weaker, not stronger

Misleading readers/viewers—every lead must be accurate and truthful

Also Avoid…
  • Critically examine all leads and rewrite them as often as necessary
  • First drafts are rarely so well-written that they cannot be improved
  • Even experienced professionals often rewrite their leads three or more times